The Monarchists were one of the two major belligerents of the Chinese Civil War and, for a long time, had total control over much of the country. The Monarchists were formed out a variety of conservative and reactionary factions that opposed the reforms proposed by the Guangxu Emperor or his ambitious nephew, the Prince Chun Zaifeng. The term "Monarchists" was first used in 1911 to describe the factions supporting the forces of General Yuan Shikai and his stated goal to insert Zaifeng's infant son Pu Yi as Emperor with a regent overseeing his development, similar to the Empress Dowager Cixi in the late 19th century. Prior to the war being framed as a battle between "Monarchists" and their enemies, the forces of Guangxu and his compatriots were derisively referred to as "West-dogs" due to their fondness for Westernization, or "traitors to the Empire."

However, the origin of the term itself is seen as a response to the sudden growth of the Chinese Communist movement in 1911 as a proposed successor to the monarchy, as well as other various republican movements. The supporters of Guangxu thus took the name "Imperial Constitutionalists" or "Reformers" to make clear that they did not support republicanism, unlike many divided factions in Chinese cities or the Communists.

The Monarchists framed the war as a battle for China's soul, despite the purportations that their victory would only doom China to further decay. A pivotal moment for the Monarchists was when the Imperial Army routed and subsequently massacred the Communists and their supporters at Kwangchow (Guangzhou) in November of 1916, where as many as 500,000 people were killed over the course of eleven days. However, public opinion soured against the Monarchists after the massacre and by 1919 the Monarchists had lost most of their support with the populace and with most army officers, along with the death of Yuan Shikai shortly thereafter, bringing about an end to the bloody conflict.

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